Hot Rod Evolution for the Goodguys
Two years ago, I walked around the West Coast Nationals in Pleasanton asking people what their idea of a hot rod was. Even though the event was restricted to 1972 and earlier vehicles, the answers to my question were varied as you might imagine. The gray beards I spoke with emphatically stated that a hot rod “Was a dropped axle deuce.” The younger guys were mixed. One who appeared to be in his 30s said it was his dad’s 427 side oiler-powered ’39 Ford. A guy in his ‘20s said a hot rod was “A ’69 Camaro loping on the cam and loud.” Another younger fellow said, “It can be anything as long as it’s fast and loud!” One of the last people I spoke to, a guy who appeared to be 40-something said, “To me, a hot rod is my LS-Swapped ’87 Monte Carlo SS.”
Which begs the question: Can a ‘70s or ‘80s car be a hot rod? Depends on who you ask. It is subjective and open to interpretation. As the years click off the calendar, the definition widens.
Here are two scenarios. It’s post-war Southern California in the early 1950s and a young hot rodder yanks the ‘banger in his deuce coupe and replaces it with a hopped up flathead V8 he got at Fred’s salvage. He strips off the fenders, puts in shorter gears and paints it up nice. He adds white striped tires and reverse wheels. Yep, he has a hot rod. He saw what his peers were doing with their cars and it influenced him. He was a subscriber of fledgling magazine Hot Rod and he went to the drags regularly. He was hooked.
The other scenario is another young hot rodder. It’s a summer day in 2016 and he’s yanking the smog-choked, wimpy 305c.i. 180 horsepower V8 in his ’87 Monte SS to make room for an LS6 V8 he got out of a junkyard from a wrecked 2001 Corvette Z06. He has lowered his Monte with performance springs and new shocks, added sway bars, and put a set of Forgelines on it. His car is factory black. He adds a silver beltline pin stripe.
After driving it for a bit, he realizes the “butt dyno” is calling for more aggressive acceleration. He goes online and buys a bolt-on supercharger kit. His addition is good for another 120 horsepower and the butt dyno is satisfied. This guy also is an avid magazine reader, web forum visitor and religiously searched online classifieds for his performance parts. He too is hooked.
What is different about these hot rodders? In my opinion, not much. They both modified their OEM cars for performance, got creative with their additions, searched the junkyard for parts, were influenced by automotive media and peer groups, and both equally enjoy smashing the throttle to experience the timeless joy that comes with rapid acceleration.
You see where this is going right? The times are changing. But! The creativity, ingenuity, and passion of hot rodding remain no matter what shape the sheet metal is. Our founding hot rod fathers and legends, staunch in their beliefs that a hot rod was a pre’49 car, are leaving us. Some of my favorite guys are gone – guys I got close to as a result of working here at Goodguys. Gary Meadors, Boyd, Buttera, Jerry Magnuson, Barry Lobeck, Magoo, Bob McCoy, Norm Grabowski, and many other hot rod guys have passed on. While we take great pride in honoring their legacy and preserving the hot rods they left us, we are faced with the reality that new generations of hot rodders are flowing into our scene. Are we going to be narrow-minded, disrespectful and unwelcoming to ‘em? Or are we going to salute their creativity and need for speed?
Many of the 20 and 30-something hot rod guys I see around the country prefer old school, traditional hot rod and customs. A large number of them in fact. But there are literally hundreds of thousands of misplaced new age hot rodders caught in no man’s land, not allowed to participate for a full weekend at a Goodguys event who own G-Bodies, Fox bodies, C3’s, C4’s, turbocharged Buick Grand Nationals and countless other oddballs. They take full advantage of our K & N Filters All American Sunday but they want in on all the action.
If we truly believe a hot rod is a car modified for performance, why should we keep ‘em outside the gates all weekend? Gary Meadors first moved the year cutoff at Goodguys events from 1949 to 1954. He then moved it from ’54 to ’62 before finally moving it to ’72 & earlier cars. That last year jump was in 1998! That’s almost 20 years without an increase. We’re thinking of making another jump. Perhaps to 1987. We have not yet decided when to do it but how can we not? The calendar never stops. Hot rods and hot rodders evolve.
Based on a questionnaire we sent out to well-known builders and manufacturers, they’re all for it, and some are already manufacturing parts. Lastly, there’s this: We floated a picture of a slammed G-body on our Facebook and Instagram pages and asked for input. It received the most comments of any picture we have ever placed on social media. It was a lightning rod. Probably 90% of the replies cried out asking us to allow mid to late ‘70s cars and ‘80s cars into national events.
Brandon Pursley, a hot rodder from Colorado emphatically stated “Goodguys please open up the years to 1992. This jump would include the 2nd and 3rd gen Camaro platform, almost all of the fox body Mustangs, and the rest of our muscled out G-bodies. Your membership will increase, event car counts will increase, and manufacturer support will grow and increase. Pre’72 cars are becoming unobtainable for some of us younger folks. We can’t start with a $20k 1st gen Camaro. We have to start with a lower cost ‘80s platform and build from there. Nothing is different in the love and passion of our build, just less chrome bumpers.”
Here at the office, fresh year-eligibility discussions are taking place. Arguments are being heard from both sides. Nothing concrete has been decided. But to survive and thrive in the performance automotive realm, eventually, things will change. Our industry will eventually demand it. Your thoughts on this are important. Drop me a line with your take – [email protected]
See you out there